Leeds Rhinos' ace Matt Prior considered retiring and remaining in Australia - but says he's happy to be back and 'would love' another year on his contract
Player of the year Matt Prior has admitted it was a difficult decision to return to Leeds Rhinos while the Covid lockdown is still in place and revealed he considered remaining in Australia and hanging up his boots.
But the 33-year-old-prop insisted he and his family - partner Rebecca and their two-year-old daughter Indie - have put those concerns behind them now and he is “happy to be back”.
Prior had an outstanding first season for Rhinos last year, despite some personal difficulties off the field caused by the pandemic.
He flew home to Australia at the end of the campaign and only arrived in England last week, after the UK government unveiled its roadmap out of lockdown.
“I struggled a bit being in lockdown for large amounts of the year last year,” Prior confirmed.
“It was kind of hard to bring my family back over and for them to have to do it for such a long time.
“You all know the difficulties you are all facing at the moment and I wasn’t sure I wanted to put my partner under that kind of strain.
“The club worked with me to give me as much time off as possible and waited until there was the roadmap going forward.
“Things are looking up, I am glad to be back and looking forward to being back around the boys and getting back into training.”
Prior said he has no regrets about returning to Rhinos.
He stressed: “Now I am back I feel like I’ve made the right call - I am happy to be back.
“My family’s not over here yet, they are going to stay another month, until things get a little bit better, then we’ll fly them over and things will start going back to normal, we’ll get on with footy and we’ll be good.”
The two-time NRL Grand Final champion was a key member of Rhinos’ 2020 Challenge Cup-winning side.
He confirmed he and Rebecca, who suffers from asthma, were concerned about the high infection rate in England compared to Australia.
Prior “didn’t have a contingency plan” for if he stayed Down Under, but admitted: “I was tossing up in my mind maybe retiring, but I don’t know what I’d do, to be honest.
“I only have one skill and that’s playing footy and I am going to keep playing footy as long as I can.
“To do it as a job is pretty cool so I’ll try and keep it going as long as I can.”
Clearly, the pandemic wasn’t what Prior or his loved ones planned for when he originally signed with Leeds.
“It was a tough year for me personally with my relationship and my little one, being away from family,” he reflected.
“It put a lot of strain on us because once we got back to Australia we were around all our family and we had a lot more support than we had over here, in the sense we could drop the little one off to our in-laws or whatever.
“It did make things a lot easier being home and I did [wonder if] it was easier to stay home and for me to get a normal job and get on to the next chapter of my life, but I still do have unfinished business and that’s why I am back, I guess.”
The former New South Wales forward said he would not have returned if Rebecca had decided to stay in Australia, but emphasised: “She is very supportive and keen to get back over and give it another crack.
“We are optimistic everything is going to get better and looking forward to the year ahead.”
Prior joined Leeds on a two year contract, which expires this autumn.
Rhinos’ management have high hopes for what the pack could achieve when Prior teams up with new signing Zane Tetevano.
“It’s still a work in progress at this moment,” he said of the possibility of a third year at Leeds.
“There is an option there for me to take up and the club has offered it to me, but I am going to see how this year pans out with everything that’s going on. Hopefully I am enjoying it and everything’s going well and I can stay on for another year. I would love that, that would be good.”
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